2 February 2018
A generation of American professionals equipped to engage with China
This series showcases young American professionals who have studied Chinese for any length of time, including studying abroad in China. Where are they now? How have their studies abroad, and Chinese language studies more generally, shaped their experience as young professionals?
Today we feature Eliana Goldsher:
Eliana grew up in rural Massachusetts, and was exposed to foreign languages and cultures through the friends she made at her international elementary school. She began studying Chinese in 7th grade, yet it wasn’t until her senior year of high school that she made the committment to study Chinese for the rest of her life. That year she learned of the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) Scholarship, an opportunity she describes as transformative. As a recipient of the scholarship, she spent the summer before college living and studying in Suzhou, China.
Eliana recalls that her time studying and living in Suzhou was the first time she was surrounded by those her own age who shared her passion for learning Chinese. She lived with a host family, which forced her to expand the range of topics she could speak at length about. “I remember the first time I met my host family, I told them I was a vegetarian,” Eliana said. “They were so accommodating and asked which vegetables I preferred. I then realized I couldn’t even name a single vegetable in Chinese.”
“One of the few sentences I knew how to say perfectly was ‘I have been studying Chinese since 7th grade.’ Naturally, people expected my Chinese to be fairly decent since I had been learning the language for five years. My summer in Suzhou compelled me to improve my Chinese abilities. That desire has driven me ever since.”
She began her freshman year at The George Washington University (GWU) in an intermediate, second-year level Chinese class. Upon entering college, Eliana also joined an organization called Global China Connection (GCC), which focused on connecting American and Chinese students for professional, academic, and cultural exchange. She quickly became a core member of the organization, attaining leadership positions through the duration of her undergraduate years. She developed close friendships with Chinese international students as a result of GCC, and cherished the unique cultural diversity of the organization.
Eliana sought to make the most of her undergraduate experience through internships. Her sophomore year, she worked as a Critical Language Scholarship Program Intern at the American Councils for International Education. While in that role, she recalls working alongside colleagues who were equally passionate about language learning and international education. “I wanted to pay it forward somehow,” Eliana said. “As a recipient of a study abroad scholarship, this internship allowed me to help ensure others would receive similar opportunities.”
Eliana participated in two study abroad programs in the summer and fall of 2015. She initially studied at Yunnan University in Kunming, China through CET Kunming. She committed herself to a strict language pledge, not speaking a word of English for the duration of the program. “It was difficult, but absolutely worth it,” Eliana said. “I even began dreaming in Chinese!” The transition from studying simplified to traditional Chinese characters during her fall semester at National Chengchi University in Taipei was tough at first, but Eliana saw it as a new challenge. Overall, Eliana’s time abroad greatly improved her Chinese language skills not only from her time spent in the classroom, but also from lasting connections she developed with locals.
“I fell in love with China and its culture during my time in Kunming. I became friends with a bookshop owner, and we regularly met for conversations over tea,” Eliana recalled. “Eventually he introduced me to his inner circle of friends, who all turned out to make up a large part of the city’s art scene. I loved their appreciation of traditional Chinese culture, treating our daily tea ceremonies in an almost ritualistic manner. It truly was an amazing experience that arose completely by chance.”
Leveraging her improved Chinese ability, Eliana secured an internship at the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Wilson Center upon returning to Washington for the spring semester of her junior year. “It was incredibly rewarding to be able to use Chinese in my work, most often through reading and translating Chinese-language news,” Eliana said. “After having spent nearly half a year dedicated solely to improving my Chinese language skills, it was exciting to be able to build upon them in a work setting.” Eliana finished her undergraduate career at GWU having taken the most advanced Chinese classes the university had to offer.
She currently is a Research and Program Assistant at the US Chamber of Commerce, China Center in Washington DC. She uses her Chinese on a daily basis to monitor Chinese news, policies, and regulations as they relate to US business interests in China.
“Studying abroad played a crucial role in developing the skills I needed to obtain my current position,” Eliana declared. She frequents meetings with Chinese officials, and assists with law and policy translation. “Knowing that my work is directly related to a global discussion on the state of US-China relations makes it all the more meaningful.”
USCS: Advice to current and future Chinese learners?
EG: “When you are ready, commit yourself to a language immersion program. The foreign language scholarship I received in high school changed my life, but the foundation of having already studied Chinese for several years was critical to my success. Each time I studied abroad, it was a new amazing and unique experience. Committing to a language pledge is tough, but incredibly rewarding. And be sure that if you are lucky enough to study abroad, you use your free time wisely. Treat it as seriously as you would your classes because your time abroad is finite and invaluable. The best way to learn the language is to seek out and become friends with locals. Also, download Pleco.”
Eliana received her B.A. in International Affairs with a minor in Chinese Language & Literature from The George Washington University in 2017. She is currently a Research and Program Assistant at the US Chamber of Commerce, China Center in Washington, DC. Based on her three separate study abroad experiences, academic focus, and prior work history, Eliana hopes to continue using Chinese for the rest of her career.